Marking boycott could cancel graduations

Silja Slepnjov, Editor-in-Chief

University lecturers have committed to a marking boycott as the ‘ultimate sanction’ unless the long-running pay dispute between staff and employers is resolved.

The University and College Union (UCU) will enforce the boycott from the 28th of April unless Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) partakes in ‘serious negotiations’.

According to the UCU, the current offer of a 1% pay increase amounts to a 13% real terms decrease in salaries since October 2008. UCEA has not improved the offer despite six university staff strikes this academic year.

Lecturers have also been irritated by average 5% pay rises for university vice-chancellors who now earn an average of £235,000.

The lecturers will refuse to mark students’ work, communicate marks to anybody, give feedback on students’ work in a way from which a mark could be deducted and will not be attending examination boards or preparation meetings during the strike. This would mean serious disruptions in dissertation assessments and all exams – including final year evaluations.

UCU representatives at Strathclyde emphasise that the dispute is no longer just over pay rise. They say the boycott, which they undertake ‘very reluctantly’ ‘sits within a broader context’ of ‘deteriorating working conditions, increased workload, punitive changes to contracts of employment and a general atmosphere of job insecurity’.

The representatives also expressed ‘increasing concern about the creeping privatisation of Higher Education, the transformation of Universities into business style corporations, students into customers and the idea of knowledge into a commodity’.

UCU at Strathclyde also said: “As committed teachers the last people we want to hurt are students, however, we will only take this action after all other avenues have been exhausted. The wages and conditions that we are defending today will be the working environment into which graduates will emerge tomorrow.”

A UCEA spokesperson said: “Higher education institutions will certainly be disappointed that the UCU is still threatening a marking boycott, as this is action that is once again aimed directly at students’ education.”

The marking boycott tactic has not been used since 2006, when the 2-month action resulted in a 13.1%-15% pay rise phased over three years and an agreement that the final year increase would be in line with inflation rates.

Experts have noted that one of the main reasons the 2006 boycott lasted for so long was that most institutions did not implement deductions – and have warned that lecturers would face significant penalties in the upcoming industrial action.

A UCU analysis based on the recent international wage figures released by Deloitte shows that UK lecturers, taking into account purchase power parity, were on average paid 45% less than Canadians, 34% less than American lecturers and 16% less than their Australian contemporaries.

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